165km to go: We now see the beautiful “Theatre Antique” in Orange. It’s quite a structure, which shortly will hold its annual opera and classical music festival.
169km to go: The gap is now around 94 seconds; the peloton is just about retaining its form as we stand but it will surely want to start closing shortly.
173km to go: Magnus Cort Nielsen – who was riding in the break – has picked up a flat tyre, I believe.
174km to go: Two riders – I can’t see who – have broken off the front of the peloton to give chase. I’m not sure it’s for the best if things break up now.
176km to go: The gap is up beyond a minute now – it’s getting stretched.
177km to go: Van Avermaet has not made many headlines yet in this Tour; could today be the day that changes? He is down at 34th in the classification but has begun full of purpose here.
179km to go: The break’s lead is holding at around 44 seconds now. That doesn’t make it unchaseable.
181km to go: On the television we are learning about the local wine. They use 16 different types of grape in the region currently being passed through! I have holidayed there before but was shamefully un-studious when doing so.
184km to go: That big break group are around 41 seconds ahead at the moment. De Gendt is in there, so is Rui Costa, so is Greg Van Avermaet.
190km to go: I wonder if they can keep this pace up. We have a group of around 30 riders ahead of the peloton. The going is flat for the foreseeable so maybe it’s a good idea to get some distance in the bank before things get trickier.
195km to go: Six riders setting a rapid pace here, with Thomas de Gendt starting very quickly, while we’re treated to some sublime views of Avignon.
197.6km to go: A bit of housekeeping – we have two non-starters today. They are Luis Leon Sanchez of Astana and Cees Bol of Sunweb.
Off we go!
Alaphillipe has held the yellow jersey for 12 days. Will he keep it or will we see a new leader after a stage to Gap for the first time in the Tour’s history?
Fifteen of the 22 teams are yet to win in this Tour – chew on that as we prepare to start.
We are just over 3km from the official start … so it looks as if we are to begin on time.
“Why the *incredible* when describing Julian Alaphillipe?” asks Richard Parker. Why not? He’s been brilliant. I used the stars for emphasis.
It’s going to be an aesthetically *beautiful* stage, this, by the way – we have to drop that in. I’m already savouring the views of the Pont du Gard. We are in for a treat!
Geraint Thomas suffered a bit of a tumble yesterday, of course, and fortunately didn’t come out much the worse for it. Here’s how Jeremy Whittle saw the day’s action, if you need to refresh:
“Is JA cracking at last, or just looking slightly mortal?” asks Ian Miles. He means Alaphilippe, of course, who has put such an *incredible * amount into this Tour and now has one of those difficult leads – enough to give those chasing him a major headache but sufficiently slim that one mistake could ruin everything. Is he cracking? I’m going for the “mortal” option.
Today’s fun should start in a little over half an hour – at 11.40am UK time.
It’s going to be a hot one today!
We’re looking at about 39 degrees, I’m told, in this 17th of the 21 stages – it’s going to be a really attritional test of endurance that could be absolutely pivotal in deciding what has been a fantastic Tour de France so far. Geraint Thomas remains hot on the heels of Julian Alaphilippe – one minute, 35 seconds behind as we go into today’s action – with Steven Kruijswijk, Thaibaut Pinot, Egan Bernal and Emanuel Buchmann all not far behind. Bernal says he feels ready for mountain stages that he believes are “more the Colombian style of climbing” – handy, given that he is Colombian. While there was little shakeup in the general classification yesterday, you sense there might be a twist or two here. Stay tuned …
William Fotheringham’s guide to stage 17
A horrible stage for anyone who is merely trying to survive to Paris, as it’s going to be long, hot, largely uphill, and probably with cross-winds in the opening kilometres where the break will form. This is the last stage where a breakaway specialist who isn’t a pure climber can win; usually about half the teams still need a stage win by this point so the first hour could be very hectic. The finish could go to a rider from the break or a sprinter who can climb such Peter Sagan.